I Have Discovered Moonstruck

Screenshot: MGM

Three friends recommended the movie Moonstruck to me with a fervor that was so strange, I had to submit. One of them posed preliminary questions to gauge my interest: Do you like Cher? Do you like old people? Do you like Nicolas Cage? The answer to all of these questions was, of course, YES! Old people are funny, and Cher is Cher. I was also told that the film featured, quote, “Peak Hot Nicolas Cage,” a statement I approached with suspicion. I had never known Nicolas Cage to be hot. I know him as an actor who loves to scream and does it well. But my mind was open.

A Christmas movie, Moonstruck hit theaters on December 18, 1987, before the golden age of romantic comedies. It’s a quintessential New York City film about fidelity and family (a lovable Italian one), and as thematically absurd as a rom-com can get. Just my cup of tea. Cher—whose character is named Loretta Castorini but who I’ll continue to refer to as Cher in this post—is set to marry Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). At the top of the film, he offers a sheepish marriage proposal to Cher at a restaurant before he absconds to Sicily to tend to his ill mother. But from the outset, it’s clear that Cher is a fireball and not in love with this guy. She likes him but doesn’t love him. She’s a widow, and he’s simply the existing option. In the meantime, as a favor to Johnny, Cher must convince Johnny’s brother Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage) to end their years of estrangement and attend the wedding. The problem is that Ronny’s grudge against his brother has left a cleft in his heart. He is, quite dramatically, out of his mind in an endearing way.

Moonstruck is not bound by logic and unafraid to be nonsensical. Every scene pulses with charm and absurdity. There are several shots of the moon because it’s poetic and there’s some kind of curse attached to this plot—the movie is widely considered underrated. (I watched it this week, for the first time, at my friend Estelle’s birthday screening of this and The Fate of the Furious, two excellent movies about family.) AV Club accurately described Moonstruck as “part working-class Italian American love story and part larger-than-life operatic melodrama, with just a touch of magical realism thrown in… It sits somewhere between the kitschy exuberance of Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’ and the tragic poignancy of Puccini’s La Bohème.”

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Anytime I’ve mentioned Moonstruck to someone in the past week and said I loved it, they’ve paused to gather their recollection of the film from their conscience. They would smile and nod in silent agreement (with me? with the universe?) as if recalling a scent from childhood. “Ah,” they’d swoon. “I love that movie.” Or something like that.

Now, let’s talk about Nicolas Cage.

The cheekbones on Nicolas Cage in 1987 are worth losing one’s morals. He wears lust and agony in earnest, screams with anguish, and delivers every line in Moonstruck as if he is Hamlet in mourning in a Shakespeare in the Park production. He loves the opera, and most of all, after one night with Cher, he decides he loves her, too. When Cage’s Ronny is introduced, he’s working in the basement of the Cammareri family bakery, his lithe body lit by the blaze of a burning coal oven. He explains, in this scene, that he lost his hand to a bread-slicer, as well as his fiancée, years ago, and he holds his brother responsible for these dual tragedies. As mentioned, the name “Nicolas Cage” doesn’t incite lust in me. But I must admit, he is hot in this movie. The image above may not do him justice. There’s one shot of him standing outside the Met, where he and Cher attend the opera, that had me, let’s say, open. He looks like a lusty vampire, and Cher looks amazing, too.

As Ronny, Cage captures the enchantment and naiveté of early romance perfectly and crazily. In a matter of what seemed like just hours to me, he and Cher ignite a romance, just as Cher’s father, Cosmo (played by Vincent Gardenia), indulges an affair of his own. Her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis), is not without desires as well, and she does engage with them, but she’s less inclined to follow through on mere whims. She is practical about love. Their affairs converge at one point, but not explosively.

There is not much of a romantic comedy structure to Moonstruck, no chase, and no preordained ending. It’s a movie where two characters surrender to the strange sensation of love, and that’s an authentic depiction of a feeling no one understands. I went thirty-plus years without seeing this perfect movie, and I regret the error. I must pay it forward and recommend it to whoever has not known the pleasure of Cher and Nicolas Cage as a couple.

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